Prozan Supports Condo-Conversion Measure

by Paul Hogarth on March 31, 2010

Anyone attending last week’s District 8 Supervisor debate at the Noe Valley Democratic Club would have to say Rebecca Prozan won. Scott Wiener and Rafael Mandelman sniped at each other with predictable attacks of “moderate vs. progressive” – while Prozan sat in the middle, quoted Obama and looked very much above the fray. But I’ve been struck by how many moderates tell me they support Prozan, even though Wiener is clearly campaigning as “their” candidate. And on an issue that divides landlord and tenant advocates – letting tenancies-in-common (TIC’s) in the condo lottery mass convert – Prozan came out in favor at the debate. Pushed by Plan C and Gavin Newsom as a way of raising one-time revenue for the City, the measure in question would by-pass the cap of 200 condo conversions a year – meant to curb the erosion of our rental housing stock and discourage Ellis Act evictions. When asked, Prozan explains her position because we have “already lost” those rental units, the City needs an influx of money and that we should pursue other ways to expand housing opportunities for tenants.

There is no doubt that in the race to succeed Bevan Dufty, Scott Wiener is running as a staunch moderate. Endorsed by Mayor Newsom, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and Plan C Chair Mike Sullivan, Wiener spent much of the Noe Valley debate attacking the progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors – and said that Rafael Mandelman was at the heart of the “Aaron Peskin – Chris Daly machine.” In the two-hour debate, the two male candidates spent much of their allotted time responding to each other’s attacks.

But Rebecca Prozan – a former aide to Bevan Dufty – shares much of Wiener’s moderate base. For example, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club did a dual endorsement of both candidates – while the progressive Harvey Milk Club endorsed Mandelman. And though it’s admittedly anecdotal, I’ve been struck by the sheer number of moderates who tell me they’re supporting Prozan – while they agree with Wiener politically (but say he just doesn’t excite them.) Meanwhile, most progressives I talk to support Mandelman.

At the Noe Valley debate, all three candidates were asked how they’d balance the City budget – which faces a $522 million deficit. While endorsing various revenue solutions, Prozan mentioned she supports the automatic conversion of TIC’s in the condominium lottery – which would bring about $25-50 million on a one-time basis. (Interestingly, Scott Wiener said we must “restrict one-time revenues to one-time expenses.”) I’ll have to admit I perked up when she said that, as tenant advocates have long opposed it.

San Francisco has a cap on “tenancies-in-common” (TIC’s) of 200/year that can condo-convert – and for good reason. These units were once rentals, and many were the product of Ellis Act evictions. Even if the displaced tenants were not senior or disabled, a TIC conversion means the loss of rentals in pre-1979 buildings. Each year, Plan C promotes lifting the cap – and complains about the “lottery hell” that homeowners go through. Mayor Frank Jordan proposed lifting the cap in 1993, and – like now – said it would raise revenue for the City.

In her defense, Prozan says that we’ve “already lost those rentals” – and if it could bring more money for the City in a budget crisis, it is worth it. “We can’t stop the purchase of TIC’s,” she told me. “We lost that battle. So how do we put together a package that includes affordable rental opportunities with middle class housing opportunities? In my first term as Supervisor, I want to bring together a comprehensive housing package.”

But in this economy, many TIC’s are being rented out (at least temporarily) – and if they condo convert, state law exempts them from rent control. And rather than create TIC’s and then wait several years to win the condo lottery, property owners can condo convert in a more direct route. But that also requires giving senior and disabled tenants a lifetime lease, and giving renters a right of first refusal to buy their units. Some tenant advocates argue that allowing a mass condo conversion of TIC’s essentially rewards a bad option.

Prozan said she understands all these concerns, and that measures need to be taken to stop “unclean evictions.” And in fairness, the City did curb condo conversions of TIC’s with an Ellis eviction on its record in 2006 – but the law was prospective. In other words, TIC’s that had an Ellis during the dot-com boom are still in the condo lottery and would benefit from this proposal. But with the budget crisis, said Prozan, “I’m trying to weigh not laying off health care workers and closing recreational centers with people in the condo lottery.”

In her campaign for Supervisor, Prozan has distributed Budget Surveys to solicit input from District 8 voters on how to deal with the crisis. She reports being “blown away” at the level of support the mass condo-conversion proposal has – when the surveys get returned. If true, could it be that the Castro and Noe Valley are even more gentrified than progressives have feared? Because some argue the neighborhood has changed politically.

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